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Heaven in Ohio

Barry Smith

A few years ago I landed a part-time gig as a traveling AV Guy. I get to work with cool people and get sent to cool places, like Vegas and New York. And, most recently, Cleveland.I’ve never been to Cleveland, so I have nothing against it, but it just sounds like a punch line to me. As I inform friends that I’ll be leaving town soon, hesitatingly adding the Cleveland part, each response is the same: “Wow! New York, Vegas … and Cleveland! What an exciting life you lead. Ha ha.” Each time I laughed as if they were the first ones to say this, because that’s how you keep friends.Whatever. It’s a gig, and I’ll spend the better part of my time working in a hotel conference room anyway, so Cleveland could be anywhere. Still … Cleveland – HA!I arrive on a Wednesday afternoon, taxi to the hotel and stroll out to grab a quick lunch. A restaurant I pass, Fat Fish Blue, looks like a good dinner choice because it’s so close to the hotel and, according to the menu posted outside, they have catfish – sold! We spend the next few hours setting up our AV gear, finishing about 9:30 p.m., and my co-worker Sean and I head around the corner for dinner.There’s a band playing at Fat Fish Blue. A blues band. If you’ve read my column before you know that I’m a rabid blues fan, so blues band is good. The place isn’t crowded, so we sit near the “stage,” a little platform which barely fits the seven or so cats that crowd it – drummer, bass, couple a horns, guitars. I order catfish, collards (I’m from Mississippi, after all) and a local microbrew and position my chair to check out the band.After three songs the guitarist leaves the stage. Assuming it’s a break, I turn to chat with Sean.Then I hear, from the bandstand, “Robert Lockwood Jr.” I don’t think much of it, thinking they must be announcing, a few minutes late, who wrote that last tune.Then again: “Robert Lockwood Jr., ladies and gentlemen … Robert Lockwood Jr.!”I turn back to the stage and see … holy sh–! … Robert Lockwood Jr. climbing up on it!OK, stop here for a moment. In order for you to be with me for the rest of the story, you may need to substitute your own choice of musician here – your own equivalent of a genuine living blues legend who actually learned to play guitar from Robert Johnson in the 1930s, someone who is on your short list of people to see before they (or you) die, someone who is the absolute last freakin’ person on Earth you’d expect to see easing his near-90-year-old self onto the stage of Fat Fish Blue just a few feet from you on a Wednesday night in Cleveland. Maybe Mick Jagger would do it for you. Or Chuck D. Or Celine Dion. For me it’s Robert Lockwood Jr. My jaw drops. Literally. My mouth hangs open and remains that way for a full two minutes as Mr. Lockwood picks up his electric 12-string archtop and launches into “Stormy Monday.” I turn to Sean and say something like, “It’s f–in’ Robert Lockwood Jr.!” Not an easy thing to do with your mouth hanging open.Before the first song is over the waitress sets down a steaming plate of catfish and greens in front of me.This is when I got concerned.See, I have my own beliefs about the afterlife.Forget pearly gates (very hard to keep clean), streets of gold (dangerously slick with even the slightest precipitation), and floating around on clouds with the pious folks you can’t stand spending five minutes here on Earth with, let alone all eternity. Heaven, I’ve always thought, would be, basically … this – sitting in a restaurant, sipping good beer over a plate of catfish and collards while various blues legends play music for me.So as I watch Mr. Lockwood perform, I suspect that maybe my plane went down. Maybe my cab ride was fatal. Maybe I didn’t cross the street successfully. Maybe Muddy Waters and Son House will be taking the stage soon. And asking me to sit in with them.Maybe I’ve died and gone to Cleveland.Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is barry@Irrelativity.com, and his very own Web page is at http://www.Irrelativity.com


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